A Benevolent Dictatorship

by Bill Brenner on June 10, 2013

My kids learned a new term this weekend: benevolent dictatorship. It’s Erin’s way of describing the way of the household. We’re the parents, we make the rules and the boys don’t get to move the goal posts around. For the sake of Erin’s sanity and my own OCD management, it’s become necessary that the children understand this.

Mood music:

Kids will be kids. Our boys leave their dirty clothes all over the floor and Lego pieces are in just about every room waiting to be stepped on. They have the uncanny ability to sweep the kitchen floor without catching a single speck of dirt and the living room furniture is always at some weird angle. They don’t do this stuff to be mean. Any parent will tell you similar stories.

But my OCD is rubbed raw these days as I adjust to a new job and the resulting changes it brings to the family dynamic. I come home and pick up all the messes they make. I can’t help myself. Seeing chaos in the form of messy rooms makes my mind chaotic, which brings on a craving for order that makes me run myself ragged.

It’s not good for me and it’s not good for Erin, who then ends up having to take care of three kids instead of two, as I revert to an angst-filled teenager in my moments of OCD overdrive.

So we had a family meeting this weekend and laid down the law. We increased their chores lists and told them their allowance will get docked every time they protest having to pull their weight. But we softened the blow by giving them both a raise. All in all, they took it well. They even seemed eager to get on with it. But we know the blowback is inevitable. They are just kids, after all.

I’ve never been particularly good at enforcing the rules. I don’t like to yell at the children, and I often choose the path of least shouting as a result. But I do it at my peril.

Lately, I’m realizing that I can’t be the passive parent anymore, because it leads to me cleaning up every bit of destruction in the kids’ wake and they don’t learn the value of being on the hook for certain responsibilities. If I let them be irresponsible, I’m doing them more of a disservice then when I have to raise my voice. And I’m learning that the yelling isn’t necessarily a disservice.

That’s become part of my education in OCD management: learning how to be a hard-ass without being an asshole.

If I can master it, I’ll be in better mental health. Erin will be in better mental health. And the kids will grow up to be men who have the discipline and thick skin to make their dreams come true.

Or so I hope.

Duncan, Sean, Bill

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf June 10, 2013 at 9:33 am

Bravo! Laying down the law has always been tough for my husband, Ed, to do. He’s hampered by his ADHD because he tends to see things as either/or: either no reprimanding or all bellowing. He’s still working on getting the hang of it, and our boys are 11 and 18.

Robin June 10, 2013 at 9:57 am

I love the “benevolent dictatorship”–that is genious! I have one 8 year old boy, and have similar lego/clothing issues. But love your idea of giving a raise but also enforcing the law. Just an idea for you…when I was a kid my father had a great system. He called it the “silent butler” and if we left stuff out in the common rooms he would collect it and put it in the silent butler, and we had to pay 10 cents or so to get it out. I’m not sure what it would be now for inflation…but it worked! When we were looking for our shoes or games and couldn’t find them, we thought twice about leaving them around. He did this also when we left lights on or turned up the heat w/out permission… hope the new system works well for you guys!

John Main June 11, 2013 at 7:33 am

From one OCD parent to another… My psychiatrist recommended the 1-2-3 Magic book to me on the basis that he’d used it with his children and grandchildren and it really does work. Great techniques for getting children to stop doing what they shouldn’t be doing and start doing what they should be doing (your chore-allowance-incentive scheme corresponds with a lot of what the book suggests).


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